Pubdate: Thu, 16 Feb 2012
Source: Athens Banner-Herald (GA)
Copyright: 2012 Athens Newspapers Inc
Author: Walter C. Jones, Morris News Service 


ATLANTA - Representatives of social-service agencies and advocacy
groups took turns Wednesday telling a House subcommittee why they
oppose legislation that would require welfare applicants to be tested
for illegal drugs.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, said he was open
to some of their recommendations but refused to withdraw it. He said
his experience as a physician's assistant where he often treats
welfare patients who use drugs convinced him it was necessary to
safeguard taxpayers and steer the users toward treatment.

"I can tell you: I'm in the trenches, and I see this," he said. "It's
time for the taxpayers of Georgia to be protected."

Spencer said taxpayers should not have to subsidize illegal drug

Critics of his bill said there is scant evidence that poor people on
welfare use more drugs than other groups. Neil Kaltenecker of the
Georgia Council on Substance Abuse said addicts in recovery do best in
their critical first year when they have support.

Six lobbyists also testified before the subcommittee of the Judiciary
Non-Civil Committee chaired by Rep. Roger Lane, R-Darien.

"Anything that gets in the way of people getting benefits adds to the
stigma of mental health," said Ellyn Jager of Mental Health America's
Georgia chapter.

Neil Kaltenecker, executive director of the Georgia Council on
Substance Abuse, agreed.

"If I thought that was working, I'd stand up on this table and tell
you to support this bill," she said.

Nearly half a million Georgians need treatment for drug or alcohol
addiction, and half of all addicts also suffer from mental illness,
she said.

"Use doesn't mean addiction, necessarily," she said.

Others warned that denying benefit payments will increase the demands
of the state's charities to take care of the families. There are about
4,300 adults getting Temporary Assistance to Needy Families with a
payment of $250 per month for about four months, typically.

In Florida, a similar law resulted in a 19 percent drop in
applications for TANF, and a similar drop here could save taxpayers
$1,125 each, according to Tarren Bragdon is president and chief
executive officer of the Foundation for Government Accountability and
a former Florida legislator. However, an Orlando judge ordered
enforcement of the law halted temporarily until questions are answered
in court over whether the tests are an unconstitutional invasion of
applicants' privacy.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1990 Georgia law that had
required all teachers, state employees and political candidates to
take drug tests because it was an invasion of privacy.

The subcommittee only heard testimony but didn't vote. Lane said he
would wait until Spencer came back with changes he wanted to
incorporate from the advocates' testimony. 
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